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On Your Radar: The Stanford Prison Experiment
by Karen Pecota

In the summer of 1971, a Stanford University Professor of Psychology, Dr. Philip Zimbardo conducted an experiment funded by the US Office of Naval Research. His study was on the psychology of imprisonment. Prisoners vs. Prison Guards. Dr. Zimbardo's findings were of interest to the US Navy and Marine Corps as to probable causes of conflict between prison inmates and military guards. This Information was deemed useful in times of war.

Dr. Zimbardo's study results became famously known as "The Stanford Prison Experiments,” one of the most shocking social experiments of all time. The film The Stanford Prison Experiment is based on actual events that took place.

Film director Kyle Patrick Alverez and screenwriter Tim Talbott were awarded two prestigious prizes at the end of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival for their incredible efforts to reenact Dr. Zimbardo's study. The awards given: The Waldo Salt Screening Award US Dramatic Award and The Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize Award.

The experiment took place on the Stanford University Campus in August of 1971, by a team of researchers led by Dr. Zimbardo, in a simulated jail under concentrated surveillance. The mock prison was located in the basement of the University’s psychology building. Out of seventy-five applicants, twenty-four male undergraduates were chosen who appeared to be the most psychologically stable and in excellent physical health. This was a paid experiment to be given upon completion of the experiment. Each participant was paid $15 a day (Equivalent to a day wage of $87 in today's 2015 wage market).

At random, each student was given either the role of a prisoner or a prison guard. The participants embraced their designated roles with vigor. Far beyond Dr. Zimbardo's expectations. Zimbardo designed the experiment so each group would feel a loss of individuality and sense either a powerlessness or a powerfulness.

Day One of the project resulted in each group/individual trying to do their job well. Trying to keep in focus who they were and the reality of the experiment. The days that followed shed light on extreme variable effects of the psychological degradation in each group. Day two researchers observed the first crack in the project. They were shocked at what the surveillance cameras revealed. The team was mesmerized by what they saw. Mortified. Frightened. Curious. They eagerly monitored an unprecedented escalation of harsh abuse and actions of rebellion.

Christina Maslach, a graduate student in psychology (Dr. Zimbardo's girlfriend at the time and later his wife), was brought in to conduct interviews with the subjects of the experiment. Out of all of the professionals Dr. Zimbardo asked for input, Maslach was the only one to question the morality of what she observed. Not only with the experiments' subjects but with the research team. Her deduction proved that Dr. Zimbardo and his team had lost their way. They themselves had become a huge part of the experiment, fully unaware.

The experiment was to be conducted between a seven-to-fourteen-day timeframe. It lasted six.